DUNEDIN — Jeff Gow, his voice choked by emotion, asked fellow city commissioners to denounce racism, acts of intolerance and discrimination. They had his back.
Gow was speaking to commissioners June 2 about the death of George Floyd, the 46-year-old black man who died after being pinned down by a white Minneapolis police officer, and the protests that have occurred around the nation, including the Tampa Bay area.
Gow asked commissioners to request a resolution be prepared expressing disapproval and condemnation of many racist, intolerant and unlawful discriminatory acts. He also called on residents to treat each other with respect.
"While many protests were done peacefully, many also ended in violence and the destruction of property," he said. "We must stand up against this violence, rioting and meaningless destruction of property and personal injury. We must also truly understand the origin of the anger, and it's important to move forward as a community."
He also said he has been struggling with his understanding of Floyd's death, protests and related events.
"As a white male, how could I possibly understand," he said.
Gow said he's grateful for the many people and the members of the community who posted their comments on Facebook and who have gone to rallies.
"This is not adequate penance for my silence," he said. "It’s just to say I'm going to get more proactive in working on racism and relationships."
Gow said it was encouraging to see all the law enforcement agencies in the state condemning the use of lethal force against Floyd.
He also called on residents to treat others with respect and pledge to work with community partners to advance equity and inclusion to achieve a true diverse tolerating environment for all residents.
Mayor Julie Ward Bujalski got a letter June 1 from a local NAACP chapter that she intends to forward to city commissioners. She and City Manager Jennifer Bramley have a scheduled call with Sheriff Bob Gualtieri to discuss the requests of the NAACP so they can understand what the agency has in place.
Some of those requests include calling on all law enforcement agencies to have Citizen Review Boards with subpoena power and a ban on the use of all choke-and-knee holds.
"And if there are things that are not in place that the NAACP are requesting, we can talk about how we make that happen," Bujalski said.
Commissioner Heather Gracy thanked Gow for leading the discussion, saying it should be a topic everywhere.
"We are all seeing and feeling a lot so thank you for bringing your passion and that important very narrative," she said.
The topic has been on the minds of commissioners, their families and people across the nation, Commissioner Deborah Kynes said.
"No more division. It's time to come together and time to find ways to bring the light forward," she said.
Commissioner Moe Freaney said that sometimes it's hard to have such discussions, but they are also important and should be held in large and small communities.
"I look at all of our faces on here, and we are all alike. We do not know what it feels like to have those same worries," she said, referring to blacks.
Toward the end of the discussion, Bujalski said she feels Gow's pain. She also said she was proud the city has good ordinances about inclusion for people of all walks of life.
"How do we moved forward?" Gow said. "I just don't want this to be a thoughts-and-prayers mentality, and we have a Facebook post and life moves on and life is normal again. I would like to see something progress so it's constant part of a dialogue we have, and I think that's the only way you truly move forward," Gow said.